Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jim Rotondi - [From the Archives]

Here's another of our re-postings that serve as a celebration for the reappearance of a video previously lost to copyright restriction.

I thought it might fun to follow yesterday's tribute to the late, Freddie Hubbard performing Blue Moon with a profile about a trumpet player on today's Jazz scene who most resembles Freddie's tone and fiery attack.

Make no mistake, however, Jim Rotondi is his own man. He brings to the trumpet the kind of courage and spirit for which the Jazz trumpet has always been known.

Whether it was Pops [Louis Armstrong] with Joe Oliver's Band at Lincoln Gardens in Chicago, Dizzy leading his own big band at the Newport Jazz Festival or Maynard Ferguson and his screaming trumpet reverberating against the walls of Birdland, when the trumpet guy/gal gets up and puts his/her lips to the mouthpiece, that's when we expect the fireworks to begin.

And Jim Rotondi can really set 'em them off.

Jim Rotondi is part of a coterie of outstanding young trumpeters on the Jazz scene today, both domestically and internationally, that includes Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Ryan Kisor, Alex Sipiagin, Joe Magnarelli, Scott Wendholt, Terence Blanchard, Rudd Breuls, Bert Joris, Fabrizio Bosso, Flavio Boltro among others.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles and the crack filmmakers at CerraJazzLTD productions put together the following video that features photos of Jim as well as most of the album covers from his recordings on Gerry Teekens’ Criss Cross label and Marc Edelman’s Sharp Nine Records.

The audio track is from Jim’s Bop [Criss Cross 1156]. The tune is entitled King of the Hill which Jim co-wrote with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. Joining Jim and Eric on this cut are Harold Mabern on piano, John Webber on bass and drummer Joe Farnsworth.

Details about Jim Rotondi’s background and his current musical affiliations are thoroughly outlined in these informative insert notes by Bret Primack.

© -Bret Primack, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Jim's Bop [Criss Cross CD 1156]

When I listen to this music, I'm reminded of the records that came out during the late 50s and 60s on the Blue Note label. That was a golden era in Jazz and on Blue Note, there was a stable of first rate musicians who recorded music in varying configurations that has more than stood the test of time. It was certainly music that reflected the age but thirty years later, it sounds as fresh and new as the day it was recorded.

That same freshness permeates every fiber of these grooves, as it does on most Criss Cross recordings. And like the Blue Note of the 60s, there's a stable of young, New York based musicians recording for Gerry Teekens' label who have set a standard of excellence that insures their music is guaranteed to survive the ages as well.

If this were the 60s, I suspect you'd find Jim Rotondi standing alongside Freddie Hubbard , Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd and the rest of the Blue Note brass section as a trumpeter with his own singular voice. Here in the 90s, his second release as a leader puts him in the forefront of the talented trumpeters on today's scene. And like that Blue Note stable, Jim works with a group of musicians in varying configurations. On this date, two of his principal collaborators enlivening the proceedings significantly are tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. The three of them have played and recorded together for a number of years now and have a collective group called One For All.

In addition to bassist John Webber, certainly no slouch in this company, a survivor of the 60s Blue Note sound is on board as well, Rakin' and Scrapin' and still a keyboard contender, Harold Mabern. A veteran of so many classic sessions, most notably for this writer, his work with Lee Morgan, Mabern's presence here is a touchstone to jazz history not lost on his young collaborators.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Rotondi has nice things to say about the men who made this music.

Eric Alexander: "This record is a good example of the way we work together. We got together two days before the date and wrote all the material. That's how we do records, on our own dates and with other musicians. Writing under the gun works well for Eric and 1. 1 first met Eric in 1990, when he was studying at William Paterson, along with Joe Farnsworth. Right away, we started playing together. Eric gave me my first date as a sideman too , on his record "Straight Up." So for the past eight years, we've played quite a bit, off and on."

"Eric is such a strong player that I find myself constantly being challenged and trying to be on a par with him in terms of the strength of his ideas. Another thing about Eric, and some may not hear it this way, is that he's very disciplined but spontaneous as well. It rubs off when we play together. Like on this record, at the session, we put together some background things on the spot."

"In addition to working together, we're also friends. We go out to Yankee Stadium for baseball. Joe too. In fact, Eric, Joe and I have been like frat brothers since I've known them. Our playing reflects that; we're very in tune, spiritually, very much on the same level."

Joe Farnsworth: "I went to college at North Texas State from '82 to '85 with Joe's brother, James, who was a baritone saxophone player and that's when I first met Joe. When I moved to New York, there were actually three brothers, Joe, James and John, who were are all musicians."

"The first thing I like about Joe's playing is that he has so much understanding of the different periods and drummers that I don't necessarily hear in young drummers. He understands the history of so much music that anything I play, he's going to know where it's coming from. A lot of musicians want to play with Joe because of that. Lately, he's worked with George Coleman, Cedar Walton and Benny Golson."

Harold Mabern: "I first met Harold when we played together on Eric's first date and we played briefly with George Coleman's Octet. In fact, that group made a recording that was never released. Here and there, over the last eight years, I've done a few more things with
him. He teaches out on William Paterson so I've been privileged to be exposed and associated with him for a while and it's an honor to have him on the record, which is also his first sideman date for Criss Cross."

"Harold knows how to make anything better. He'll always have suggestions on how to make an ordinary tune into much more of a vehicle for the band, a focal point.. He adds things in the arrangements and also just by what he plays, because he's a fantastic soloist and it's great to have him playing behind me. It brings everyone's level up. He makes everyone play better."

John Webber: "John's been on the scene for a long time now and is also a friend. He's from Chicago and works with Johnny Griffin but he's also played with people like Brad Mehldau and Etta Jones."

"John is a very solid bass player, there's absolutely nothing contrived or extraneous in his playing. And his personality is like that as well. His time is right, the notes are right, and the changes are always right, he's like a rock"

As for the tunes, King of the Hill is Jim's tribute to Freddie Hubbard, which he co-wrote with Eric. "Freddie had the ability to write tunes that were so much a part of his personality," Jim explains, having been studying Hubbard's playing for so long that he considers him a primary influence. "Freddie wasn't the first guy I studied, actually my first influences were Clifford Brown and Woody Shaw. When I got to college, I started getting more into transcribing solos and doing a transcription for his 'Birdlike " solo on 'Ready For Freddie " really opened me up to his playing. His playing on that recording seemed so perfect, so flawless which is really amazing because the trumpet is not as flawless as other instruments. It's hard to be that perfect on the horn. Every trumpet player should be aware of and study Freddie Hubbard."

Last Call is another co-composition Jim did with Eric. "I came up with a piano riff and told Eric I wanted a gospel thing and he came up with the line. It's not a gospel song in the true sense but we both play with Charles Earland so it's got that vibe, kind of an end of the night, hanging in a bar vibe."

El Patito, which is Spanish for the duck, was written by Eric, although '.we did work on it together but the melody is entirely his. I think it's reminiscent of a tune on Lee Morgan's Rump-roller album, 'Edda.' Harold plays so great on things like this, he just sets up a big, fat blanket of rhythm to play over."

Trombonist Steve Davis, another remarkably proficient young player in the Criss Cross stable, is a good friend of Jim's and he recommended the standard, We'll Be Together Again. Another standard, All or Nothing At All, gets an up-tempo treatment here, in "the old Blue Note style. Just the tune, not too much arrangement."

Reflecting on standards, Jim laments their loss, feeling "they really don't write melodies with great harmony anymore. There's lots of great writers now writing good tunes, but there's something about certain standard writers, the ones who wrote strong melodies with interesting chord changes."

Jim took Moon Rays from Horace Silver and his album Further Exploration . Silver's work has also been an influence. "When I first started playing with Joe and Eric, I would transcribe Horace's arrangements and we'd play them straight from the record. His original arrangement on this is a slow mambo but we decided to take it up-tempo. But with Horace's compositions, there are always a bunch of different ways they can be played."

Jim picked Stevie Wonder's modern standard You Are The Sunshine of My Life because he wanted a more contemporary pop tune as part of the program. Also, he explains that "Harold loves to do stuff like that. Even Eric Clapton tunes, Harold can make great vehicles out of. He came up with the arrangement and it's the perfect example of how Harold can make what would normally be a simple tune and give it a new life with great arrangement."

Joe Farnsworth wrote Jim's Bop, as dedication to both Jim, this trumpeter, and his late brother, who played baritone sax.

Reflecting on this session, Jim is pleased, feeling it's a very accurate of "how well we work together. We did this date in a little over five hours and everybody has to be really in sync for that to happen."

In addition to his own gigs, Jim is currently working with Charles Earland and Lionel Hampton, as well as gigs with George Coleman. And with Eric and Joe, is part of One For All. "To establish yourself and get work in clubs, it's about as difficult young people getting into the music now as it's ever been. But I've been at it a long time now, eleven years this month, and it's been a steady process."

Bret Primack June,1998

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